Thursday, December 8, 2016

Empire Of Storms by Sarah J. Maas - Book Review

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin's journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

2016 hasn't exactly been the best for me, reading wise.  I've spent the entire year going through short spurts of reading frenzy, only to fall back into a debilitating slump immediately after.  The Throne Of Glass series has a soft spot in my heart for successfully kicking me into a frenzy with each new installment, so it was with much anticipation that I picked up Empire Of Storms.

I don't want to say that I disliked the latest ToG book, because it still managed to get me reading again.  But I definitely wasn't as enthused with it as I had been hoping.  I attribute that to repetitive scenes and phrases, unecessarily graphic sex scenes, and the complete absence of my favorite character of the entire series.

I think my  biggest issue with this book was how forced character interactions seemed that were so natural in the previous novels, two in particular.  While I make no secret that I love Chaol with every ounce of bookishness I possess, I was just starting to accept the idea of Rowan as the main romantic interest in Queen Of Shadows.  They had this undeniable chemistry, this closeness, this weight of responsibility and a shadowed past.  While I would personally choose the former head of the King's Guard a million times over, Rowan made sense for Aelin.  After beating my inner Chaol fangirl into submission with assurances that this didn't mean we loved him any less, I let myself enjoy this change of ship, and started to look forward to their sexy, witty banter.  We still get that in Empire Of Storms, but it didn't seem as effortless to me.  Their scenes together stopped stealing my breath, and by the time we got to the most...detailed of their encounters, I was forced to admit that I just didn't care any more.  I still like Aelin and I still like Rowan, but my ship has sailed for those two, and I resign myself to at least one more book of forced interactions and grossly over-the-top love scenes between them.

Another character who felt off to me was Dorian.  I never jumped on the Dorian/Celeana bandwagon that so many seem to have joined in the earlier books, but I still really liked the lovable Prince.  I wanted nothing but for him to get his Happy Ending, so when that was snatched away and replaced with something so much more cruel in Queen Of Shadows, my heart broke for him.  I rejoiced when he was released from that, and couldn't wait to get back to our old Dorian in Empire Of Storms.  When what we got was an overly confident yet somehow submissive shadow of the Dorian I love, I felt cheated.  Even his romantic developments, which I had been really hoping for in QoS, rang false to me here.

The only thing more disappointing to me than the change in three of our main characters is the complete absence of the fourth.  Chaol is nowhere to be found in any of these pages, and the only sign of his continued existence in this universe is a few very brief mentions of him and Nesryn, and what they're doing in another part of the world.  And to put it simply, I missed him.  I missed the bromance between him and Dorian.  I missed his stoic demeaner and dry wit.  I missed his loyalty and his inner demons.  I just...I missed him, and there wasn't a single chapter featuring our main characters in which I didn't feel his absence.

Now, with all the things I didn't like out of the way, I can get to what I really did love.  Aedion and Lysandra remain bright spots of entertainment and banter amid the Aelin/Rowan lovefest, though I didn't expect anything less from my favorite fae cousin to our Queen and his shape-shifter love interest.  A few of the side characters got much more face time in this one, and Maas fleshed them out wonderfully.  I'm talking about Elide and Manon.  While we got plenty of Manon in earlier books, here her story arc truly shines.  I love her fierceness, her struggles with who she is.  She has by no means been a good person, but she has her own code of honor, and makes so many sacrifices for those she cares for.  Upon her introduction, I never would have thought I'd be sitting here today, hailing her as one of my favorite characters.  I just love it when that happens.

Elide owned the other half of the best chapters.  This girl has been through so much, and walked out of it all with such an inspiring strength and resolve.  And for someone who spends so much time lamenting her lack of any formal education, the girl is smart.  She is so resourceful and quick-witted and easy to root for.  It's no suprise a certain fae warrior was unable to resist her charms, and while it may seem a bit shocking who Maas chose for our poor, sweet Elide, by the end I was shipping them harder than any couple left in the series.  I can't wait to see what becomes of them in the next book.

Finally, the ending.  Sarah J. Mass managed to pull everything together in that almost magical way of hers and leave us with a seriously satisfying but seriously torturous cliffhanger.  I can't get into anything specific for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say that I could have hated everything about the first ninety percent of this book, and that last ten percent would have reeled me back in instantly.  It was unexpected and action-packed and heartbreaking, and it offers only the tiniest spot of hope among a whole lot of bleakness.

In every series as long as this one, there are bound to be one or two that just don't live up to the rest.  Middle-book syndrome is a very real thing.  I'm just going to chalk Empire Of Storms up to this, and keep my hope for a stellar finale alive and well.  Besides, there really was enough good in this one to combat the bad, and give me an ultimately worthwhile reading experience.

I'd just better get my Chaol back in the next book.

3 out of 5 stars

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